Refulgent…

Refulgent. Adjective. Literary. Shining very brightly.

It’s an unusual description, and I put it into the mouth of Kardeiz describing his brother, Loherangrin, at the beginning of The Swan Knight:

There are stories, so many stories, about the goodly company of my famous father and applauded brother. Parzival, Gral-king; Loherangrin, the Swan Knight. But you should know that there’s more to the Monsalvat clan than these glittering examples of upstanding masculinity. My fragrant mother, Condwiramurs; my patient uncle, Anfortas; mad Frimutel, my great-grandfather; even madder Titurel, great-great-grandfather. And myself, Kardeiz of Waleis, son to glorious Parzival, brother to refulgent Loherangrin. Yet who will remember Condwiramurs and Kardeiz when Parzival and Loherangrin stand with shining armour and just-ever-so-fatuous smiles before us?

My wife queried the word, not having met it before. I told her what it meant and added that I didn’t recall where I’d met the word first, but had known it for years. And, serendipity, I met the word that night re-reading The Game of Kings, first in the Lymond Chronicles, by Dorothy Dunnett (Sphere books, 1976, p225).

book covers of the Lymond Chronicles, Dorothy Dunnett
Book covers of the Lymond Chronicles,
Dorothy Dunnett. Vintage books.

I first read the Lymond Chronicles, set in the sixteenth century with its mix of original characters and historical figures, in the late 1970s, when I was taking the London Chamber of Commerce Secretarial Certificate at Guildford County College of Technology, in my year between A levels and university. The course was not the most exciting or exacting (although I probably could have devoted a bit more attention to my shorthand skills, which are now completely non-existent), so I was more than ready for something to absorb me – and Dunnett’s series did. I read them over a period of two weeks, rushing back to the bookshop on my way home every couple of days to buy the next volume (no, I have no idea why I didn’t buy the lot at once) and, following with excitement the adventures of Francis Crawford (and probably falling just a little bit in love with him), I became a Dunnett devotee.

By the time I went to university, I’d read the Lymond series at least three times, and was overjoyed to find a fellow fan very quickly.  (He was a sword-stick-carrying, ex-gigolo archaeologist, but that’s another story.)  The Lymond Chronicles may not be the easiest of novels to get into at first – Dunnett’s prose is beautiful and sometime opaque, and the many quotations and references sometimes make the early works difficult, but it is well worth persevering. The Game of Kings introduces us to characters whom we see grow and change through the whole series and our opinion of them alters as we follow their story arcs. Alexander Fiske-Hamilton in the TLS calls Dunnett’s books ‘operatic’: there is something about the sweep of her prose and story line that makes her novels rise above most action-packed historical narratives to echo the universal themes of great opera.  It was only recently that I read the whole Dorothy L Sayers’ Wimsey series of books (and the continuations by Jill Paton Walsh) – and enjoyed the parallels of the outwardly assured, inwardly insecure figures of Peter Wimsey and Francis Crawford – writers taking this trope of the brilliant but tormented, gifted, apparently articulate and often infuriating young man and elevating him above cliché. In my own writing, I have determinedly not tried to copy Dunnett and have written with a very different narrative voice, but I’d like to think I have absorbed some of her descriptive prose and scene setting.

After Lymond, I read her fascinating novel King Hereafter, about Thorfinn-Macbeth, and the quirky detective books starring Johnson Johnson (and his bifocal glasses). When the Niccolo series came out, I was there at the bookshop, eager to buy the hardbacks, and fell in love with another Dunnett series and enigmatic lead character. I have not, however, joined the Dunnett Society through which devotees converse about all things Dunnett, but I have recommended her books to many friends and acquaintances and could happily discuss them for hours. I warmly recommend them to you, reader.

A personal note: it is especially good that I am embarking on a re-read of familiar but captivating book series, because I am just about to start on a trial at the Drug Development Unit, Royal Marsden, Sutton. It involves targeted chemotherapy and weekly ‘long days’ in hospital, made even more surreal by Covid precautions, so I will enjoy the distraction afforded by Lymond’s world and exploits.

Snowdrops

I took a photograph today of our latest flowering of snowdrops. They are early ones, probably an elwesii type, judging by the size of the flowers and the shape of the leaves which are just showing (the label had gone missing, no doubt uprooted in one of my more energetic weeding exercises). But they’re not the earliest ones in our garden – we had a couple of fine clumps of Reginae-olgae which flowered in October. They appear without leaves, brave little Galanthus named for the Queen Regent of Greece in the 1920s and native to that country, and require a slightly warmer, sunnier position than most snowdrops. Our border nearest the house (south facing, gritty soil) is clearly good for this, but it’s the first year we’ve had two clumps of them. Sadly, little Reginae-olgae only lasted about a couple of weeks before snails munched some of the flowers and wind and rain battered the petals off the rest.

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Listening to Wagner

A friend recently asked me how to get into the operas of Wagner. It’s a vexed question, this one, but I’m going to try to answer it from a very personal viewpoint.

First, my experience. I was a choral singer – I started in a church choir at the age of seven – and also belonged to a local dramatic and operatic society. My first on-stage outing was as a page to the Duchess of Plaza-Toro in The Gondoliers. These experiences guided how I approached Wagner – I sought out the choral parts, and there are many.

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St George

“So you’ve been out in the world, righting wrongs and bringing succour to distressed maidens?” asked Artus, less than seriously.
I grinned. “Not many distressed maidens for me. My lady wife is less tolerant of that sort of gral-mission. I get the set battles and military campaigns. Dragons and wurms, that sort of thing. Situations where I can wave a sword and impress the peasants.”
“Dragons?” enquired Artus.
“Dragons,” I said, firmly. “Oh, and I helped Gawan get out of that prison.”
“Ah, yes, the Dolorous Tower or Dolorous Prison, or whatever it was,” said Artus. “But seriously, Parsifal, dragons?”
“Oh, all right,” I said, rolling my eyes. “I helped a man called Gewargis kill a crocodile.”
“A what?”
“A scaly beast with huge jaws. We might as well call it a dragon.”
“And why did you need to kill it?”
This I could explain. “Gewargis wanted to save a maiden who was being sacrificed to it. There are some very primitive people around.”
“So did you and this Gewargis save the maiden? What happened to her?”
“Oh, yes, we saved her. I think Gewargis married her. I had to leave before everything sorted itself out.”
Artus took a gulp of wine. “Parsifal, you’re making as much sense as you ever did, I fear, but it’s very entertaining…”

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Inspiration

angel with trumpets
An angel musician on the Konzerthaus, Berlin.

The Wigmore Hall started concerts with audiences on 13 September 2020 and we put our names down for tickets for two concerts in the first week. We got tickets for the concert on 16 September, and were also phoned and asked if we’d like to come to a trial run concert on 12 September. Christian Gerhaher and accompanist Gerold Huber had agreed to give a cut-down programme and it seemed that Wigmore Hall were taking the opportunity to test their systems. So we went along – it might have only been a 40 minute concert, but it was wonderful to hear live music in a venue that’s familiar. And you know, 56 people can make quite a sound clapping. To be honest, I could listen to Gerhaher singing the telephone directory, so it was a perfect for me. The concert on 16 September was Dame Sarah Connolly accompanied by Malcolm Martineau – it went out on R3. I wasn’t familiar with anything in her programme except the Mahler, and it is good to listen to something new and beautiful.

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Why I am starting this site now?

Because I’d like more people than my immediate family to read something of what I create. Because I want a repository for my writing. I want to share my enthusiasm for my research that underpins my creations. Because I have advanced cancer and don’t have much time left, so conventional publishing timelines are out of my reach. Let’s concentrate on the first three reasons, shall we?